Appeasing contest

>> Monday, June 02, 2008

I'm not a big Chris Matthews fan, but I have to hand it to him in this clip, which my sister brought to my attention via a piece in The New Yorker:

The segment deals with the speech last month in which President Bush further dignified his office by taking a cheap shot at Senator Obama while the President was in Israel. Matthews discusses the matter with conservative radio talk show host Kevin James and Air America's Mark Green, but things get hysterically bogged down when Matthews responds to James's splutter about how Mr. Obama's policies would be dangerous for America if he were elected with a simple question:

"What did Neville Chamberlain do wrong in 1939 [sic]?" (Matthews eventually corrects himself--the relevant year is 1938.)

Mr. James knows that "appeasement is the key term," but there's a teeny-weeny problem there.

Guess who doesn't know what appeasement means?

The clip is definitely worth watching in it's entirety: an ignorant and uniformed gentleman gets his comeuppance in public, which is always fun, and it tends to confirm any suspicions you may have been harboring that there's some number of conservative blowhards who cite a kind of history in the form of zingers and catchphrases without any actual understanding of what the hell they're babbling about.

I find it especially pleasurable to see this kind of thing because the way some conservatives bandy about the word "appeasement" not only indicates they don't understand what it means (as Matthews says in his attempt to educate Mr. James, meeting with or negotiating with someone is hardly appeasement), but they also perpetuate a somewhat discredited view of history: the contemporary analysis of Britain's prewar appeasement policies is that the situation was far more complicated than Churchill and subsequent political actors made it out to be (perhaps caricaturing the issue for understandable and even necessary ends--a bit hard, really, to get into a nuanced national discussion of "how did our policies get us here?" when you're on the wrong end of a bombing campaign). I think it's fair to say that among historians and well-informed students, there's some recognition even among critics of appeasement that Chamberlain's--and Britain's--options in the late '30s were constrained by political and military realities. The idea of going to war--and on the far side of Eastern Europe, no less--was not a domestically popular one in a populace with grim memories of the First World War, and an openly militaristic policy was a sure road to defeat during the next elections. Too, the military might of the British Empire has to be weighed against the size of Empire: the cost of the sun never setting on British soil was that much of England's undeniable military might was tied up in places like India, keeping the natives down. And a consequence of the depression and Britain's post-WWI weariness was that much of Britain's military might was dangerously close to obsolescence: even while the appeasement policy was active, Britain's military was in the middle of a major upgrade of British air power and armor, with an eye towards an inevitable confrontation with Germany that came sooner than expected. There's even some evidence to at least support the argument that appeasement allowed Britain to win the war--that the two years Chamberlain bought for England to prepare in made a vast difference when the storm hit; that being said, there's unanimous agreement that it was a futile policy in term of its own ends--war was inevitable. The question is merely whether Chamberlain had a choice, and would any other policy have yielded better results?

All of which is interesting, but ultimately irrelevant to America's present foreign policy. Nobody who favors meeting with Cuba, North Korea or Iran thinks we should give them Poland. Or, for that matter, that we should necessarily give any of them anything, though a normalization of relations might ultimately entail exchanges. That, after all, is the essence of business and diplomacy: we're willing to give you something you want in exchange for something we want, shall we haggle over terms? To those who think like Mr. James (i.e. not at all), this might sound like appeasing hostile regimes, but the problem hanging over appeasement is not that Neville Chamberlain went to Munich, but that he came back from Munich with a bad deal he couldn't enforce. Anyone who thinks an American President of either party is apt to make a similar error in judgment is divorced from reality.


vince Tuesday, June 3, 2008 at 12:20:00 AM EDT  

These people wouldn't know real history if it bit them in the ass. I wonder what happens when you mention Nixon and China or Ronald Reagan and Iran-Contra to them?

And yeah, most history is more complicated than a lot of people realise. Part of the problem with what happened with the Munich Agreement is that England and France severely overestimated Germany's military ability at the time. However, if they had come to the aid of Czechoslovakia, Stalin had indicated he would have cooperated with them. Instead, Stalin was pissed that he was left out of negotiations, concluded that the West had actively colluded with Hitler to hand over a country to the Nazis, and concluded that they might do the same to the Soviet Union in the future, leading to the 1939 the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

I think (based on what I've read) that Chamberlain actually believed that Hitler would stop with the Sudetenland, while French President Daladier was under no such illusion, but was constrained by the French military's and civilain government's defeatest attitudes.

MWT Tuesday, June 3, 2008 at 2:40:00 AM EDT  

Now I remember why I don't watch talking heads on TV.

Text-based conversations have the enormous advantage that nobody can talk over each other and drown their opponents out, and you don't have anywhere near the level of going around in circles with the same half-completed sentences repeated over and over for minutes at a time. Even if someone types a lot really fast, the text is still right there for everyone to read back over.

Jim Wright Tuesday, June 3, 2008 at 12:50:00 PM EDT  

Yeah, I saw this clip on one of the net news site - and it would be hysterical if James' stupidity wasn't so widespread among the conservative segment of our population.

- or worse, I had somebody, the other day, attempt to explain to me why Obama sounds today exactly like Hitler did in 1932. ???? Yeah, if that makes no sense to you at all, you're not alone.

Appeasement - great buzzword, but it means nothing. And the thing I don't get here is this: Our current policy towards the middle east, cuba, N. Korea and etc isn't working, hasn't worked, and is unlikely to work in the future. For example: somebody please explain to me what fifty years of our Cuban policy of studied petulance has accomplished? Seriously, they're communists? So's China, but we put them on the most favored nation status list. Who's the bigger threat to us? And the funny thing is that Cuba wouldn't even be communist if we hadn't screwed the pooch so badly during Castro's push to power.

But, I digress.

Despite the fact that our policy towards Iran and "The Terrorists" hasn't worked, we're just going to keep doing it over and over and over - expecting different results (What was the definition of insanity again?). So, Obama wants to try something different - OMG! can't have that, that's appeasement!

You're absolutely right, most of these idiots have absolutely no idea of history or what Appeasement means in proper context. Most wouldn't know who Neville Chamberlain was - unless, of course, he was on Dancing With the Stars or was a Heisman Trophy winner. I wonder how many of the "Obama is the new Chamberlain" crowd could actually describe, even in broad terms, the inter-war period of European politics or why the US got involved in either World World - especially in relation to our then policy of Isolationism.


Jim Wright Tuesday, June 3, 2008 at 12:52:00 PM EDT  

World World should be World War of course. No enough coffee, obviously.

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